August 6, 2018
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Impoliteness and incivility are what they are these days, which generally means watered-down manners, some to the point of not being recognizable social behavior. It’s as if no one taught some clowns how to act toward others. And this is from someone who has been a clown himself, though not so much recently.
In my parts, north of New York City in the burbs, some public meetings become shouting matches and physical altercations as if town hall were the place for a street rumble. And there is always the incivility of the street, with impatient drivers, including myself.
But the lack of manners, the impoliteness most distressing is in communication, or the absence of it. Too many people, “important” ones, too, fail to answer letters and e-mails, even when they solicit same. I have written or emailed (on required forms) to the governor, to Ford Motors headquarters, to Ford engineers, to Dunkin’ Donuts and to others. All these business and people pay big bucks to solicit your opinion and some have flashy websites announcing just how “valuable” your view is. Yet write a constructive, balanced criticism with helpful suggestions, and not only do you not get a form-letter reply when you should receive at least a considered, individual response, but you receive a reply at all. None of my letters or emails in the past few years have been acknowledged. That is bad manners, and it is not polite.
The individual writer may have a harebrained idea, but if he or she presents it in a non-shouting, well-considered, non-offensive way, it should get a reply.
If people do not listen, do not pay attention to others, there is no communication, and that is sloppy for society, especially today when emotions, not clear-headedness, often rules.
Adding to this social incivility are some tradesmen. I recently considered having construction work done in my home and requested quotes from three businesses, all local. Two never replied, though they run ads shouting for trade. One firm sent a fellow who never got back to me, despite several calls to his office.
The bottom line is that my project is probably too small for their effort — the companies could use their staff on bigger jobs, with more profit. Not polite behavior, though. Bad business, too, as I won’t speak well of these outfits.
When some of us went to school, we were taught to write personal and business letters. We also penned replies. The point was not only to learn how to compose such missives but to reinforce the standard that in a civil society, communication — the back and forth of it — is necessary and expected. (Tweets don’t count.)
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at email@example.com. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.